A three-day getaway to southeast Alberta not only appeased my physical need for wanderlust, but the beauty of the area with its wide-open spaces and spectacular sunsets did wonders for the soul, too.
If you’re feeling the need to bust out, consider heading to this part of the province—specifically the area east of Drumheller to the Saskatchewan border, and south to the border between Canada and the U.S.—known as the Canadian Badlands.
70 million years ago (give or take a few thousand millennia), the area was covered in giant Redwoods and subtropical plants. What we have now are fertile fields, cavernous canyons, coulees and squiggly hoodoos.
Drumheller, a small city located in the Red Deer River valley (a.k.a. Dinosaur Valley) and the most popular destination in the Badlands, is most known for the Tyrell Museum of Palaeontology, an incredible space devoted to all things fossilized.
The world’s largest dinosaur, an 86-foot-high fibreglass and steel Tyrannosaurus Rex that stands next to the Visitor Information Centre is also in Drumheller. Step inside and climb up to its mouth and you’ll be rewarded with a fantastic view of the city. There are various statues of smaller dinosaurs placed high and low throughout the city, and lots of other dino-themed businesses and touristy things to do, but there is more to the Badlands than “Drum”, and there is more to the area than fossils.
Check out these sites that are also worthy of your time and patronage:
The village of Wayne was once a booming coal mine town but now is home to only a handful of residents. To get there from Drumheller, you’ll turn off Highway 56 and wind your way for another few kilometres down a road that features 11 single-lane bridges. For that reason alone, the trip is one worth taking, but your destination should be the Last Chance Saloon where you can sit on saddles at the bar or relax on the expansive outdoor patio. Memorabilia placed in and around the space offers a glimpse into life back in the early 1900s. There’s also a little gift shop and the Rosedeer Hotel next door. Some people say the hotel is haunted, so if ghosty things are your thing, head on over to Wayne.
Rosebud also receives its share of visitors. It’s a quaint little hamlet mostly known for the Rosebud Theatre but there are several gift shops, galleries and a museum too that are worth checking out.
About halfway between Drumheller and Rosebud is Horseshoe Canyon. You can hike some trails into the canyon or just take in the breathtaking scene from platforms at the top. Prepare to be awestruck.
At La Prairieaire, in Battle River Valley, you can stay in a traditional trapper’s tent, examine artifacts from an excavated Hudson’s Bay trading post, and explore the nearby bluffs and coulees. Very cool.
Runnin’ The Race Ranch Retreat, in Mossleigh, AB is located on a 125-year old, 3rd generation homestead. They offer trail rides and other equestrian activities. If you need to get away from the city and get your cowboy on, this is the place to do it.
If you’ve ever considered trying your hand at pottery, check out Burnt Earth Pottery in Brooks. Do it solo, or be like Demi and Patrick in Ghost (you might have to get approval for that one), or get the whole family involved. Burnt Earth offers lessons for all ages at every level of experience.
There is never a shortage of wildlife sightings in the Badlands. You’re bound to see moose, deer, antelope, coyotes, porcupines, or maybe even snakes and skunks. You’ll want to keep your distance from all of them but if you’re on the hunt for things that roam, check out the exhibits at Police Point Park Nature Centre in Medicine Hat—and while you’re there, go for a walk through the park. You’ll even get to read some poetry while you stroll, weather permitting.
In Youngstown, Back in Time Museum & Antiques has an extensive collection devoted to the region’s past and present. From dinosaurs to junkyard art, this little museum (and its yard) is filled to the brim with unique items.
The Canadian Badlands website has everything you need to know about what to do and where to stay. You’ll be amazed at how much there is to take in.
A couple of years ago, I took the backroads from Edmonton to Drumheller first heading east and then south on Hwy 21 before connecting wth 56 for the remainder of the trip. The trip took eight hours instead of four because (no surprise) I stopped in at a number of intriguing little towns and cities along the way: Camrose, Mirror, Alix, New Norway, Ferintosh, Big Valley, Rowley, Stettler…
Some towns are super small and quiet with nothing more than a gas station, while others have much more going on, like Rowley where locals have spent thousands of dollars refurbishing abandoned buildings to recreate an old west village.
Put your feet up outside of Sam’s Saloon, or walk the dusty main road and pretend you’re the sheriff facing off in a duel with a wanted criminal. In 1988, the town was used as the set for the Canadian movie Bye Bye Blues which explains the sign just beyond the town limits that entices passersby to come on in.
From bluebird skies over expansive prairies to massive canyons that split the earth in two, southeastern Alberta provides unending beauty.
If you’re not able to visit now, go to the Canadian Badlands website and start planning for 2021. Hopefully, by then, we’ll be back to full travel mode.
I also visited the area in October 2018 for a wine festival. If you’ve never been to Elkwater in Cypress Hills Provincial Park, you might change that after reading my blog post.